Feds probe Missouri’s treatment of severely mentally ill

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Justice Department on Wednesday announced it’s investigating whether Missouri has violated civil rights laws by institutionalizing adults with severe mental illnesses.

The investigation will review whether Missouri’s use of guardianships and conservatorships instead of less restrictive forms of assistance needlessly strips people of their independence, the federal agency said.

Court-awarded guardianships and conservatorships give someone control over certain decisions for another person, including where they live.

“People with disabilities have too often been unlawfully isolated in institutions and stripped of their autonomy,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to defend the rights of individuals with mental health disabilities to access the community-based services they need and to participate fully in community life.”

The federal agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for more details on the investigation.

A spokeswoman for Missouri’s Mental Health Department said the agency plans to fully cooperate with the investigation. Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, said it was too premature to comment.

The Missouri investigation is part of efforts by the Civil Rights Division to more aggressively enforce a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling aimed at ensuring people with disabilities are not needlessly isolated while receiving government help. The agency launched the initiative under the Obama administration.

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